Tim Berners-Lee: Let’s Merge eBook, Web Trade Groups to Make Spying on Readers Easier
There’s a story going around for the past couple weeks about the IDPF and the W3C, and a proposed merger between the two groups. One manages web standards, and the other is responsible for
screwing up ebook standards like Epub3. Since one is a closely related subset of the other, someone had the bright idea that the two groups should consider merging.
If you ask me, this will come off about as well as the PennCentral, but not everyone is as realistic.
Tim Berners-Lee was quoted in Book Business Magazine yesterday , and he discussed a few of the benefits he saw in the potential merger. I sincerely hope that his words are taken out of context or misquoted, because they are a mix of the ignorant and the abhorrent.
To start with, someone doesn’t understand that the real problem with ebooks is DRM (something the IDPF does not address), and not ebook standards.
Permanence. In a world of where ebook and web technology converge, ebooks will no longer disappear when new devices and formats emerge. They will live on because they are written in what Berners-Lee described as “the simplest coding language,” HTML 5. This is the foundation on which all web content is built, and Berners-Lee anticipates it will soon be the coding language on which all digital content is created.
DRM is why ebooks vanish, not minor technical issues like format compatibility. We know how to break open just about any ebook format and turn it into another; in most cases calibre can even do it for you.
But there’s a stumbling block which stops us from converting ebooks, and that is the DMCA. It is illegal to strip DRM, and that is the real problem – again, a problem which the IDPF can’t address.
And sadly, with the W3C willing to consider screwing up the web by making DRM a core element of web standards, I don’t think they’re either able to see or admit that DRM is the enemy, not formats.
Seamless. Because ebook content of the future will be created in HTML 5, it will seamlessly transition across different platforms as well as different content types. “Even though it creates some trouble [to make content interoperable], the trouble is worth it,” said Berners-Lee.
Again, the problem isn’t format; ebooks have been standardized on one form or another of HTML/XHTML/XML since the turn of the millennium.
Edit: And just so we’re on the same page, DRM is not a problem which the IDPF can address. It’s outside their control, so when Berners-Lee discusses how a merger can fix problems caused by DRM he demonstrates that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
The one thing stopping us from seamlessly transitioning content across different platforms is DRM, not format.
But I have serious doubts that Berners-Lee grasps that problem, because the article implies that he is for more DRM, not less.
Only now they’re calling it tracking, rather than what it really is: spying.
Trackable. Along with interlinking, content should be trackable, said Berners-Lee. Publishers must have the ability to understand how books are being read and shared. “We should live in a world of linked data,” he said.
This is spying, yes, but the other problem is that any platform capable of this level of tracking is only half a step away from denying you access to the content when the tracking data isn’t being sent, or simply on a publisher’s whim.
Yes, I am going a step beyond what he said, but my extrapolation is an example of why we should fight that type of thinking. If publishers are allowed to go down that road, users will get screwed. We have already seen that situation crop up with video and apps, so it’s not like it’s a stretch of the imagination.
Folks, I think we should give Berners-Lee the benefit of the doubt and assume that his statements are somehow garbled or miscommunicated, because if this is really what he really thinks then we have someone who could actually screw things up worse than the IDPF.
I did not think that was possible.
image by Paul Clarke, via WikimediaCommons